721: Self-Portrait as Duckie Dale

721: Self-Portrait as Duckie Dale

721: Self-Portrait as Duckie Dale


I’m Ada Limon and this is The Slowdown.

There are certain movies that have defined, not just my youth, but my life. Sometimes I think I am immune to pop culture or certain era-defining movements and then someone mentions, let’s say, the exceptional classic dance film, Flashdance. And there I am suddenly wearing my gray off the shoulder sweatshirt, my black leg warmers, dancing in the kitchen. Oh and you can be certain I’ll be singing Irene Cara’s “What a Feeling” at the top of my lungs. Any mention of Flashdance and I’m a puddle of wicked nostalgia. In fact, let’s stop everything and watch it right now.

The same goes for so many of those iconic 80’s films that defined a generation. I don’t know how many times my friends and I have said to each other, “You look good wearing my future.” If you don’t know, that’s a line from Some Kind of Wonderful. A movie my best friend and I watched so often that once when she came back from seeing a play on Broadway, she was completely wild-eyed ecstatic and asked, “Guess who sat in front of me!? Just guess!” I saw by her face that it had to be, could only have been, Eric Stoltz.

Iconic characters and nostalgic soundtracks weave through the rickety card catalog of my mind and silently influence all of my adult existence. For example, I still remember seeing Pretty in Pink in 1986 in the Sebastiani Theater in my hometown of Sonoma, California.

I was ten and in an awkward stage that would last another million years. I couldn’t imagine having a boyfriend or going to a high school dance or even going to high school. That all seemed ages away. But I sunk into that movie like sinking into the most comfortable chair I’d ever known. Before long, I knew that Blane was a rich boy’s name, and that being from the wrong side of a town was hard no matter what town it was, and that if Andrew McCarthy ever showed up at my door, I’d marry him for sure. I also knew, somehow, that Duckie Dale, that lovelorn pal constantly languishing after his longtime unrequited love, Andie, was a portent of my relationships to come. It was then I started wearing a trench coat.

Today’s poem is a perfect rendering of what it was to be a kid who didn’t feel like the lead love interest in a movie, but rather was bound to be the one who was always longing.

Self-Portrait as Duckie Dale
by Nicky Beer

                                      Pretty in Pink (1986)

It was always me in that shaggy suit jacket,
the battered dance shoes, the fuck-you-rich-boy
pompadour. When you cannot wail
your rain-shot, neon-blasted love
to the red-headed girls of the world,
Otis Redding is your only recourse,
your body rigid with borrowed soul.
Who knows better than another woman
to try a little tenderness?
Only the weary girls understand this.
Only the ones making knife-brimmed style 
from what the dead throw away.
Only the ones with a ready wisecrack
for each of the thousand heartbreaks
that crackle across the unrequited radio.
Dames, we sigh, sipping the long light
in the unmowed front yard,
our hidden breasts swaying under
secondhand shirts like palm trees.
Isn’t she—? asks the light. Isn’t she, we reply.

"Self-Portrait as Duckie Dale" by Nicky Beer, from REAL PHONIES AND GENUINE FAKES copyright © 2022 Nicky Beer. Used by permission of Milkweed Editions.